Posted on August 13, 2013 · Posted in Brain Injury

Could a net of more than 100 electrodes one day supplant today’s lie detector? Research at the University of Wisconsin-Stout could pave the way for that.

Using brain activity to determine if a person is lying was the idea behind the study that got under way recently this summer at the school’s psychology department, according to a press release issued by UW-Stout.

During the three weeks of the experiment, four university students “studied the brain systems that support lying and deception while using high-density electroencephalography, or EEG, equipment to examine brain wave activity,” the university said.

EEG isn’t commonly used to study lie detection. As anyone who has seen a police procedural on TV knows, the most common lie detection test  is the polygraph, which measures changes in heart rate and skin conductivity when a subject lies. But the problem with the polygraph is that if the subject isn’t worried about lying or doesn’t believe a polygraph can detect lying, they can beat it, according to UW-Stout professor Desiree Budd.

The UW-Stout study is “based on claims about brain fingerprinting, which is a highly controversial use of EEG. Issues concerning the accuracy and use of brain fingerprinting are numerous,” said Budd, who initiated the study.

Brain fingerprinting theorizes that a person processes known or relevant information differently than unknown or irrelevant information, the university said, presenting a tip-off of lying.

Four student researchers chosen for the project, two from UW-Stout and two from University of South Carolina-Aiken, conducted tests while working with Hopp and other volunteers for three weeks.

In addition to Budd, two other  UW-Stout professors, Sarah Wood and Jo Hopp, guided the project. Independent researcher Michael Donnelly of Sulcus Scientific Consulting also participated.

As part of the study, Hopp’s daughter Trece — a 12- year-old Menomonie girl– and other volunteers were hooked up to EEG machines and were prompted to tell two types of lies, using “stolen” Pokemon cards, to see if the brain has two systems for deception.

For the research Trece’s head was almost completely covered with penny-size electrodiagnostic electrodes, 128 of them, with wires connecting them to form a kind of skull cap. Next to her, as she sat in a lab in Harvey Hall at UW-Stout, there was a computer screen that showed the position of each electrode.

One of the four students, Kayce VanPelt of USC-Aiken, said the study and research process was fascinating, according to the university press release.

“It was so interesting learning about how the lie detection process works, especially since crime and differentiating perpetrators from innocent bystanders is constantly an issue,” VanPelt said.

“I realize how engaging research can be,” she said. “I suppose some people could find working in a lab stuffy, but I thought all the labs at Stout equipped with machines that could measure your brain waves or physiological responses were intriguing. I now know that whether I continue to major in biology or switch to psychology I want to do research work in a lab.”

The experience improved her basic research skills, she said, and taught her how to operate new equipment and to professionally prepare, write and read research papers.

“I know the experience provided me with the basics I need to continue with research and hopefully get into grad school,” VanPelt said.

The other students who participated in the study were Micah Hurtt of USC-Aiken and UW-Stout’s Daniel Comstock, of Eau Claire, and Brettina Davis, of Minneapolis.

The EEG project, a summer research experience for undergraduates, is part of a three-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation grant with USC-Aiken. The project will continue through the 2013-14 academic year at both schools, and the students hope to present their study results nationally.

The NSF grant, in the last year of the funding cycle, supports C-NERVE student research at both campuses. C-NERVE stands for cognitive-neuroscience education and research-valued experience.

Other research conducted through the grant will be presented in October at the Society for Psychophysiological Research Conference in Florence, Italy.

The C-NERVE Learning Community at UW-Stout was established in 2006 with a $135,000 NSF grant. The latest grant established the C-NERVE community at USC-Aiken.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447